Alan Davies: ‘At my age, you can’t just go on stage for a laugh’
- Credit: Archant
He have have spent 12 years away from stand up, but Alan Davies is truly back on the circuit. He tells Alex Bellotti about his first gigs, family life and QI.
Most popularly known as the star of BBC drama Jonathan Creek or as the dopey foil to Stephen Fry’s quizmaster on QI, it can be easy to forget that Alan Davies actually first made his name as a stand up comic.
When he finally returned to the stage three years ago with a new show, Life Is Pain, it was the first time he had toured in 12 years and seemingly inspired by his newfound role as a married father of two.
For many, it was a welcome reminder of a forgotten live talent; for others, it sparked the whole new discovery of a performer with a penchant for personal, self-depreciative storytelling that set him apart from many of his contemporaries back in the early ‘90s.
Either way, Life Is Pain proved enough of a hit to last year spawn a further show, Little Victories, which is now coming to the Hackney Empire on February 27.
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“My shows always reflect what I’m doing or thinking at the time,” explains Davies, a Hampstead resident since his move from Islington two years ago. “There’s a fair bit in this one about family life and being a parent, but there’s also a fair bit about the frustrations of married life.
“I wanted to call the show Sex Is Pain, but my Australian promoter thought it might attract the wrong type of audience, so Little Victories is about how I used to get one over on my dad.”
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Looking back at his early life through the lens of fatherhood has allowed Davies to speak to a wider audience. “If you’ve been a father, a grandfather, a son, a daughter or a child, there’s something in this show for you,” he laughs, yet even some of his more personal anecdotes have the potential to resonate.
In one of the show’s most touching moments, he talks about his father’s current struggle with Alzheimer’s.
Alongside the tragic death of Davies’ mother when he was just six years old, this has placed a greater emphasis on the comedian’s own recollections and as he’s grown older, he has become braver in sharing them with his fans.
“I’m 48 now so I can’t just go onstage for three hours for a laugh – you’ve got to have a reason to be there or it’s just a bit weird. People want you to talk about actual life; they want you to say, ‘Oh my god, isn’t it a nightmare?’
“With things that happened to me in my own childhood, there’s a bit of distance and it’s not so recent now.
“I’m able to talk about subjects that I might have shied away from in the past because I thought they might have been uncomfortable or difficult, but actually I’ve learnt as I get older that there isn’t any topic that an audience – depending on how you handle it and what you have to say – can’t handle.”
The date at the Hackney Empire is a particularly significant one for Davies. Back in 1988, he performed there in the finals of a talent show, in which he finished runner up behind a double act he struggles to recall.
It was his second ever gig and the first time he won any sort of award for comedy – he still has the trophy to this day.
He adds that in an ideal world, the Empire would be London’s comedy destination of choice: “It’s a bit of a sadness to me that so many comedians go to the Hammersmith Apollo. Even I was persuaded – much to my regret actually – to record my last DVD at Hammersmith Apollo and it’s twice the size of the Empire; it’s too big and it’s not designed for performance.
“The Hackney Empire is designed so that everything focuses on that one person on stage – going all the way back to Barry Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin right the way up to John Hegley and all the stars of the cabaret scene in the ‘90s. It’s the best place really and it ought to be the default venue for comedy in London.”
Considering he is taking his tour to New Zealand after a string of UK dates in March, it appears Davies won’t be returning to the Empire himself any time soon, but fans of QI can rest assured that he has set aside time to film another series in May.
I wonder if in light of his television work, younger generations of his fans have ever found themselves surprised when they come to see his show?
“Certainly when I came back to stand up in 2012, a lot of people came who had never seen me do a stand up gig. They just come because of Jonathan Creek or QI or just because they like stand up shows. And then they turn up and perhaps they have to slightly readjust their expectations, but that’s good, I’m glad they come for whatever reasons”
But hopefully they don’t often turn up expecting the fidgety, ditzy Davies he plays on QI?
“It’s very much a role that, well, all the panellists have on QI – particularly me – to be flummoxed and hopelessly, constantly tripped up because that’s the way the show works.
“Though you’d have to be pretty naïve to think that that was the way I went through my normal life!”
While the quiz show is currently the only upcoming television commitment on his calendar, Davies adds that he is enjoying the flexibility of a touring schedule which allows him to spend more time with his wife, writer Katie Maskell, and their young daughter and son.
“Once you’ve got a show that works and it’s enjoyable to do, I don’t want to leave any town unturned,” he suggests at one point.
Nonetheless, it appears fatherhood has made him quite happy to sit down when he’s not standing up.
Alan Davies performs Little Victories at the Hackney Empire on February 27. Tickets: £25. Visit hackneyempire.co.uk